It’s been a few years since an old-fashioned mainstream comedy won best musical at the Tony Awards. Tootsie could change that.
Its primary challenger appears to be the acclaimed New Orleans-infused folk opera Hadestown. But don’t count out the thriving Temptations musical, Ain’t Too Proud, or the inclusive comedy The Prom.
To date, the favorites aren’t dependent on a Tony-related sales lift. Tootsie, about a struggling actor who finds work and enlightenment as an actress, is capitalized at $20 million and has a weekly breakeven of $858,000, according to offering documents obtained by Broadway Journal. Last week it did $959,000, even with comps to press. Coincidentally, sales were also $959,000 for the $11.5 million Hadestown, which has lower running costs.
Ain’t Too Proud is the bestselling new musical of the season and the underdog least in need of an upset. In contrast, The Prom has been struggling since it opened in the fall, despite good reviews. It received seven nominations, including for scene-stealer Brooks Ashmanskas, playing an actor who battles intolerance and his own ego with activism. (Tootsie‘s Santino Fontana is the man to beat in that category, lead actor in a musical.) Beetlejuice ($21 million capitalization) got eight nominations, a cause for celebration for Warner Bros.Theatre Ventures, given the mixed reviews.
Hadestown, the only original musical this season written by a woman (Anaïs Mitchell) and directed by a woman (Rachel Chavkin) received the most nominations — 14. That doesn’t necessarily portend a Hamilton-like sweep. In 2017, Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 was nominated for 12 Tonys and won two, for lighting and scenic design. Last year, Mean Girls was nominated for 12 and won none.
It’s worth nothing that Mean Girls is still playing, as are fellow also-rans in the top category: Aladdin, Waitress, Beautiful, Come From Away and, of course Wicked. The best musical Tony is worth millions in publicity and sales, but it’s not a prerequisite for commercial success.
“Not too long ago, the Tony Award winner for best musical would run, and everything else would close fairly quickly,” ticketing consultant Mike Rafael said in an email. “Word of mouth has never been more important. There has never been more ways for people to share their thoughts/reviews of new shows – social media, chat rooms, online ratings, websites.”
Best Play: With To Kill a Mockingbird overlooked in the category, the favorites appear to be The Ferryman, an English import set in Northern Ireland ($7.5 million), and the All-American, $2.5 million Pulitzer Prize-finalist What the Constitution Means to Me. The epic Ferryman has a cast of two dozen, plus a rabbit, goose, and real-life baby. Constitution features a lead actress playing herself, delivering a timely and biting critique of the U.S.
Theoretically, there could be a draw of sorts: author Heidi Schreck wins for best actress — over Annette Bening (All My Sons), Laura Donnelly (Ferryman), Elaine May (The Waverly Gallery), Janet McTeer (Bernhardt/Hamlet) and Laurie Metcalf (Hillary and Clinton). And Ferryman takes the play prize. The other play nominees are Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Choir Boy, set in an all-male, all-black prep school; James Graham’s propulsive Ink, chronicling Rupert Murdoch’s early life on Fleet Street; and Taylor Mac’s out-there Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andronicus.
“A best play Tony gives you something to market to summer audiences,” Rafael said. “It also gives a tremendous boost to regional productions, which is an important source of subsidiary income for a show. There have also been some successful tours of Tony-winning plays (eg. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time).”
Producer Scott Rudin earned nine nominations for Mockingbird, including for lead actor Jeff Daniels and even best score, by composer Adam Guettel. Rudin spokesman Rick Miramontez said the snub won’t affect the producer’s ongoing commitment to — or enthusiasm for — Broadway. “He’s thrilled with the play’s nominations and especially thrilled that it’s been such a great year for plays.” The five plays in which Rudin was the lead producer earned 20 nominations.
Nonprofit Winners: New York Theatre Workshop developed Hadestown and What the Constitution Means to Me. It has a financial stake in Hadestown and probably in Constitution as well, although a production spokesman declined to comment. Manhattan Theatre Club earned a combined 10 nominations for Choir Boy and Ink. Roundabout got nine, with Kiss Me, Kate, Arthur Miller’s All My Sons and Bernhardt/Hamlet. Lincoln Center Theater is credited as a producer of Mockingbird, which was directed by nominee Bartlett Sher, the resident director of LCT.
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma!, which got eight nominations, was developed, produced, and premiered at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, in July 2015. The Fisher Center has a stake in the show, as does Rebecca Gold, who supported the original production. Oklahoma! was further developed at St. Ann’s Warehouse, in 2018.
Notable Actor Nominations: Robin De Jesús, perhaps best known for playing Sonny in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights, got his third Tony nomination, for the starry revival of Mart Crowley’s Boys in the Band. And as I predicted in my review of Ain’t Too Proud, Jeremy Pope was nominated for playing Eddie Kendricks of the Temptations and for his acclaimed turn in Choir Boy. He’s the first actor nominated for a play and musical in the same season since Dana Ivey in 1984, who was cited for Heartbreak House and Sunday in the Park with George.
After this story was published, the nonprofit section was expanded. Editor: Alice Scovell